Community-College Students Say They Struggle to Get Into Needed Classes

February 09, 2011

From students' perspective, community colleges are no longer able to offer the access to an education that they have long promised, says a report released on Wednesday.

One in five community-college students had a difficult time getting into at least one course that they needed in fall 2010, and almost a third could not get into a class that they wanted, according to the national survey, commissioned by the Pearson Foundation. Hispanic students were particularly affected, with 55 percent saying they could not enroll in a class they wanted because it was already full.

About 28 percent of students who took placement tests said they could not enroll in all of the recommended classes.

The situation may only grow worse, as two-year colleges have warned, amid repeated budget cuts and increased demand from a financially needy population. State community-college directors have predicted that their states' contributions will continue to fall even as enrollment rises. A budget proposal in Texas, for example, threatens to deny any funds to four community colleges. In other states, including Iowa and South Carolina, community colleges are now getting more money from tuition than from state contributions.

The national "Community College Student Survey" is new, so it's unclear whether students are having a harder time getting classes than in the past. But it's clear that many are feeling squeezed out.

About 1,430 U.S. residents between the ages of 18 and 59 were interviewed for the "Community College Student Survey" from September 27 to November 14. Respondents had to have pursued at least one community-college course for credit between August 1 and the survey's completion.

In addition to crowded classes, the report said many struggling students can't get help or don't seek it out. About 5 percent of students had dropped out during the first few weeks of the semester, and 10 percent had seriously considered doing so. Students working full time or in remedial courses were most likely to have dropped out or seriously thought about it.

Of the students who considered dropping out, 20 percent said they could not get the help they needed. Almost three-quarters of those who did drop out had not discussed their intentions with instructors or advisers.

The survey, which also explored students' thoughts about online education and interactions with professors, is available at the Pearson Foundation's Web site.